Picture of author.

Gary Barwin

Teoksen Yiddish for Pirates tekijä

26+ teosta 261 jäsentä 10 arvostelua

Tietoja tekijästä

Gary Barwin has written several pun-filled picture books as well as fiction for adults. A writer, musician, educator and performer Gary lives in Hamilton, Ontario with his wife, three children and a fear of the family car

Tekijän teokset

Associated Works

Granta 141: Canada (2017) — Avustaja — 58 kappaletta
Animal Tales: Favorite Stories from Chirp Magazine (2007) — Tekijä — 6 kappaletta
Hard Times (1990) — Avustaja — 2 kappaletta

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Clever, but not my cup of tea. The premise of a Yiddish-speaking parrot narrating the tale may have worked better (for me personally) as a short story.
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monnibo | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 3, 2024 |
I have just discovered Gary Barwin, whose writing is published mostly in Canada and doesn’t get much exposure in the USA, despite his many efforts. His latest is an essay collection called Imagining imagining. In it, Barwin exposes why his work is popular in Canada, and perhaps not ready for the American market.

Everything is a stream of consciousness. Barwin can switch gears in mid paragraph. He will go from narrative to fractional sentences and individual word sentences. Very freshman English 101 style. Break the mold sort of writing. It is easy to get lost in them, but the essays are short enough that you soon find yourself back on dry land.

A lot of it is autobiographical. Barwin makes sure you know he is Jewish. He points it out numerous times. He was born in Northern Ireland to South African parents, and is spending his adult life in Hamilton, Ontario, after growing up in (what were) the western suburbs of Ottawa. He was smitten by jazz at an early age, still plays sax himself, along with writing and teaching. He has a long list of awards for his writing, including a Leacock Award for humor.

Barwin will start ruminating on something serious, and suddenly be reminded of something from his childhood. Often, it’s a joke:
While shepherds washed their socks by night
While watching ITV
The angel of the Lord came down
And switched to BBC.

I hadn’t heard that one in decades. It is from a brief era when there were only two tv stations to watch in the UK, the government station and the independent station, which was, at the time of Barwin’s youth, funkier and junkier.

Another joke is the Groucho Marx line: Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. Barwin never lays it out that way, but scattered throughout are snippets and phrases from it. So it’s an in-joke, I guess, for those of a certain age. Because fewer and fewer have ever heard of the Marx Brothers, and Barwin doesn’t come to their rescue.

He has an interestingly conflicted relationship with Hebrew. At three very different points in the book, he says that Hebrew predates not only earth but the universe. It is the language of God. It says so in the Kabbalah. And yet, Barwin claims at least as many times he does not speak, write or read Hebrew. On the other hand, he is so enamored of the shape of the letters in the font, he creates art out of them.

For someone who claims to be not religious, there is an awful lot of Judaism and Jewish tradition throughout the book. But at the same time, he says: “I want to live in the present not the past and I don’t want to live in a place purpose-built for one people. Despite the Holocaust. Despite the anti-Semitism. Maybe because of it.“ A politician couldn’t have positioned himself better.

Sometimes, there is good insight emanating from his constant quoting. In bemoaning the strains of trying to live as a creative, he says: “The poet/publisher James Sherry wrote something to the effect that ’a piece of blank paper has value – you can sell it, someone might buy it, but if you write a poem on it, you can’t even give it away.’” And then proceeds to elaborate on the numerous ways he has gotten his own work before readers, from poetry magazines in dentists’ offices, to letters to the editor, to purchased and published works and his own books.

There are essays on his pet poodle, his grandparents escaping Lithuania for South Africa, the business of writing, Hitler moustaches, how he came to write his novels, insomnia, John Coltrane, ampersands, and much more. See how they all fall naturally together?

The problem, as I see it, finally comes to the fore 97 pages in: “I begin writing this (chapter) like I begin most things. Without having any idea what to do. Without having any idea where I’m going.” And then he swings around and starts riffing on the title. This explains pretty much everything. Barwin’s nonfiction is not carefully considered, documented, refined or researched. It is pure stream of consciousness. And he can rant like this for endless pages. In this case, 200 of them.

The chapter, by the way, is called Writing as Rhizome, and after several pages, Barwin says “So what is a rhizome? About 2½ pounds.” This is a riff on the old What’s a Grecian urn? About $5 an hour, that few will recognize anymore. But semi-seriously, folks, he does try to explain the title, and then suddenly thinks of a protest chant: “What do we want? A time machine! When do we want it? It doesn’t matter.”

The last of these dad jokes that I’ll impose on you comes near the end, summing up life and Judaism: “My father used to be president of Planned Parenthood. Once, I asked him when is a Jewish fetus considered viable. He told me it was when it graduated from either Law or Medical school.”

So here’s the thing. This book is difficult to review. For me, it’s a glass half empty. It is incoherent, unfocused, without a point. And I say that for having reviewed going on 2000 works of nonfiction, including hundreds under Humor. But I clearly see how others would see a glass half full. I mean, the man has fans. He is frequently published. His fans would say it is so entertaining, so surprising, so creative, so unexpected and unpredictable. And funny? Woohoo! It’s exciting because you never know where he will end up!

Unfortunately, neither does he.

David Wineberg
… (lisätietoja)
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DavidWineberg | Jan 1, 2024 |
Wow. This was an extraordinarily slow read for me. I thought all the Yiddish would be interesting and familiar and it was, but it was also a roadblock. This is the story of a Jewish boy/man living at the cusp of the 15th and 16th centuries, fleeing persecution in Europe and seeking some kind of completion through some missing sacred texts, which he chases all the way across the sea to the New World, first as a member of Columbus' crew, and later as a fugitive and pirate--all told by the narrator, Aaron the parrot. The historical framework is interesting but the narrative did not resonate for me and I barely finished it. The quest is endless and bleak, with a muddy resolution. Onward.… (lisätietoja)
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karenchase | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jun 14, 2023 |
This book has a lot of great potential. It's the story of Moishe, a Jewish boy who becomes a pirate and ends up in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, where he gets involved with a group of crypto-Jews. The book is narrated by a snarky African Grey parrot, who uses a lot of Yiddish.

It's a great set-up. The parrot's voice is delightful. There are a lot of Yiddish words, but with enough context that you can understand what they mean.

Unfortunately, the storyline made no sense at all. I gave up about a quarter of the way into the book because I just had no idea what was happening.… (lisätietoja)
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Gwendydd | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | May 8, 2022 |



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